New York nursing homes distribute COVID booster shots as omicron variant enters U.S.

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As the Omicron variant enters the U.S., nursing homes and adult care facilities in New York are required to make COVID booster shots accessible for all residents.

Governor Kathy Hochul made that announcement over the weekend, after hospitalizations across the state jumped 20% in the last week.

Local nursing home staff say it’s important these vaccines are accessible to some of our most vulnerable populations. Marie Aydelotte, the Chief Medical Officer for Jewish Home in Rochester, says they already have a good portion of their residents boosted.

“Right now actually 93% of our residents are boosted and 98% are fully vaccinated. A small number of them are not eligible for boosters, probably because they got the vaccine a little bit later and it hasn’t been the full six months for Pfizer and Moderna or two months for Johnson and Johnson,” Aydelotte said.

To administer the vaccines, she said some of their nurses went to residents’ rooms, making it easy and comfortable.

“First we got permission from family members and residents if they’re able to give the permission themselves, and then we went room-to-room,” she said. “It was really a very big effort. It was over 300 shots in one morning, so we were busy.”

Over at Kirkhaven Nursing Home, staff members started administering the booster shot in September. Roughly 70 of their 113 residents have gotten the third shot.

“Within the first week or two that it was available we had already started it on 30 of our residents because of course, when it first came out, it was only for those who had the Pfizer vaccine. So we’ve been very successful with the boosters and getting them out and making sure the residents are tracked, and the staff are tracked, and everyone who’s able to get it wants to get it gets it,” said Mark Irwin, the Director of Nursing at Kirkhaven. 

After giving the extra shot, Irwin says they monitor for side effects, but very few of their residents have had any. 

“We monitor you know vital signs, we’re looking for anything that’s out of the ordinary. Most of the time, it might be a little low grade fever, some nausea, some body aches, but for the residents. They’ve been doing quite well with it. So it’s been amazing,” Irwin said. 

When it comes to getting a vaccine, both nursing homes agree: accessibility is important. 

“In nursing homes, obviously those residents are not very mobile so we have to bring the vaccine to them. There is a difficult situation in the community where there are homebound elderly people and actually Jewish Home has a home visit medical practice called Physician House Calls, where we have about 260 homebound, frail elders and they got their initial vaccine in the home because they were unable to go out most of them, and now we are bringing the booster to them in the home,” Aydelotte said. 

Aydelotte added that sometimes use of technology can make it harder on older adults, so having vaccines brought right to their living space is a big help. Advocates for our elderly population agree.

“Just like we would be able to go out and get one very easily, say at a pharmacy or at our doctor’s office, those residents… it’s not easy for them to get out of the building. It’s not safe for them, many of them just for various reasons, medical reasons. They need to have that protection come to them,” said MaryDel Wypych, Chairperson of Elder Justice Committee of Metro Justice. 

But the most important benefit of the vaccines? Keeping residents and their loved ones healthy. After New York has lost more than 15,000 nursing home residents and employees to the COVID virus, advocates say these vaccines play an important role.

“Before we had the immunization, people were just scared to death, they were scared that their loved one would contract COVID and die. And then being locked out of the nursing home and not beingn able to see directly what was going on how their loved one was doing, and they were suffering from isolation,” Wypych said.

She added it’s essential nursing home residents are able to see their loved ones and vaccines help make that possible. Irwin said he’s seen a difference since vaccines were made available to residents. 

“It’s been nice to finally see everyone get back together and have some activities and things like that because this is their home to when we want to create as much as a home like environment as anyone else. There was a lot of restrictions in long term care, but I think we can all remember there was a lot of restrictions with us in the community. So it’s nice to get back to business as normal and see them interact and have fun and their families and things like that” he said. 

To help encourage more staff and residents to get vaccinated, both Kirkhaven and Jewish Home hold vaccine clinics for booster shots. Currently, all staff at nursing homes and adult care facilities have to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Read the full story here.

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